Wind Tunnel Testing Advances Development of Aurora’s Active Flow Control X-Plane

Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing Company, recently conducted wind tunnel testing of its X-plane candidate for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) program. The data collected provides a rigorous foundation for developing flight control laws using active flow control (AFC) as a primary control effector.

Wind tunnel testing was conducted as part of phase 1 of DARPA’s CRANE program, which includes system requirements development, initial design work, software development, and initial airworthiness activities. The CRANE program, overall, aims to design, build, and flight test a novel X-plane that demonstrates quantifiable benefits of designing with active flow control.

“Aurora’s work on CRANE continues our history of proving ground-breaking technologies from concept to flight test,” said Per Beith, President and CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences. “Through the DARPA CRANE program, Aurora is advancing AFC technology for application to next generation aircraft.”

Aurora is designing an X-Plane that uses AFC for multiple effects, including flight control at tactical speeds and performance enhancement across the flight envelope. This work is widely applicable, across tactical and non-tactical aircraft, and aims to provide the confidence needed for future aircraft requirements to include AFC-enabled capabilities.

“Leveraging Boeing’s targeted investments in active flow control, our advancements on the CRANE program aim to further validate the technology’s potential benefits to improve efficiency and performance for both commercial and military aircraft,” said Laurette Lahey, Senior Director, Boeing Research and Technology, Flight & Vehicle Technology.

Using a 25% scale model, Aurora conducted tests over four weeks at a wind tunnel facility in San Diego, California. In addition to 11 movable conventional control surfaces, the model featured 14 AFC banks with eight fully independent controllable AFC air supply channels. Over 14,000 data points were collected, including 8,860 AFC control power points, forming the foundation for a flight-quality aerodynamic database to enable rapid execution in future program phases.

The test team consisted of Aurora and Boeing engineers with expertise in aerodynamics, conceptual design engineering, and test & evaluation. Test data has since been incorporated into vehicle models to characterize active flight control performance across the operational envelope and continue progressing design development.

Aurora Tests Improved MIDAS Counter-UAS System

Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing Company, recently completed a project to advance the capabilities of its Modular Intercept Drone Avionics Set (MIDAS) counter-unmanned aircraft system (C-UAS). Aurora engineers designed, implemented, and tested improvements to the drone engagement device (DED) and onboard autonomy, as well as to the speed and maneuverability of the vehicle platform. Using similar test parameters to last spring’s demonstration for the Joint Counter-sUAS Office (JCO) and the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), MIDAS autonomously defeated 83% of small UAS targets.

“Since our successful customer demos last year, we’ve continued to improve hardware and software systems on MIDAS to ensure we are prepared to meet the needs of future counter-sUAS programs,” said Jason Grzywna, director of small UAS programs at Aurora. “The vehicle we used for the most recent tests included enhancements in agility and autonomy, which improved target acquisition, and in the bolos fired by the DED, which proved more effective in completely disabling the target.”

Originally developed under a Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) contract, MIDAS is designed specifically to mitigate adversary sUAS with low collateral effects. Cued by ground radar, the multi-rotor, AI-enabled MIDAS uses an on-board sensor to autonomously identify and track adversary targets. Once the target is identified, MIDAS fires bolo projectiles that entangle the target’s propellers and disable the vehicle without endangering bystanders.

“Aurora recognizes the importance of an effective, low-collateral effects interceptor to help mitigate threats posed by the proliferation of low-cost Group 1 drones,” said Grzywna. “With the support of the DIU, we were able to progress quickly in the development of our product solution. The DIU’s far-reaching network of government stakeholders, connection to the warfighter, and understanding of the emerging tactically relevant threats, have been essential for moving this technology from the lab to the battlefield.”

Part of the vehicle’s autonomy includes the use of perception and guidance, navigation, and control (GNC) algorithms to search for, track, and target drones within range of the vehicle’s perception sensors. These algorithms provide a localized position of the target in real time and determine how the system develops its autonomous intercept and firing solution. The vehicle then uses the information from these algorithms to provide control commands directly to the autopilot system and fire the drone engagement device.

The use of perception capabilities on MIDAS is just one example of Aurora’s expertise in autonomy. For over 30 years, Aurora has been an industry leader in autonomous capabilities including human-machine teaming, GNC, and early-stage technology development. Learn more about our programs in autonomy here.

DroneTalk with Sonia Berube-Ray, Managing Director of Aurora Swiss

In an interview with Commercial UAV News, Sonia Berube-Ray discusses what drew her to her new role as Managing Director of Aurora Swiss Aerospace and what she sees for the future of this innovative business.

Aurora Swiss Aerospace is a subsidiary of Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing company, and is located in Lucerne, Switzerland. Sonia and a team of dedicated engineers provide expertise across a wide range of disciplines related to unmanned aircraft systems and future mobility.

Read the full story on Commercial UAV News

Aurora’s New Lab is a Hub for Innovation in Autonomy

Aurora Fight Sciences, a Boeing Company, recently opened a new lab space in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston. The lab occupies the third floor of the historic Schrafft’s Center and houses advanced capabilities in autonomy, electronics, rapid prototyping, and testing.

“Creating an innovative environment is a key element to tapping into the passion of our team and attracting those who aspire to advance the future of flight,” said Per Beith, Aurora President & CEO. “It will enable us to accomplish cutting-edge work in autonomy as we continue to build on our aviation legacy.”

The lab supports applied technology projects in a state-of-the-art facility with a machine shop, a class 100,000 clean room, an electronics lab, and a prototyping space, as well as advanced machinery such as 3D printing stations, a laser cutter, thermal chambers, and soldering stations. It has dedicated space for several programs, including for Aurora’s Modular Intercept Drone Avionics Set (MIDAS) counter-UAS solution and for the development of multi-vehicle and human-autonomy interaction capabilities.

Within the new facility is Aurora’s Advanced Teaming Integration Lab (ATIL), which enables user-centric, agile development, test, and evaluation of multi-vehicle autonomous systems. Running on a highly configurable hardware/software infrastructure, ATIL supports autonomy development and test activities ranging from operational analysis and simulated human-machine interactions to running flight-ready autonomy software deployed on flight hardware.

“ATIL fills the gap between pure simulation and flight testing of multi-vehicle autonomy capabilities,” said Aniruddha Katre, software engineer. “It has been a key enabler and the amount of configurable space available in the new lab will make it easier to accommodate the needs of all the exciting programs that we are working on.”

Aurora is also bridging the gap between humans and autonomy by creating artificial intelligence (AI) that can learn to adapt its behavior to best complement a human’s cognitive state. By using physiological data like gaze behavior and heart rate, this technology estimates key metrics of human cognition such as mental workload, stress, and attention. Using this estimation, the AI can assist the human in a way that is most conducive to their needs in that moment. Wearable technology such as augmented reality headsets are just one way that humans and AI can work together to construct a visual environment that is tailored to a person’s cognition.

In addition to housing cutting-edge development programs and state-of-the art equipment, the new lab offers career opportunities in engineering, autonomous systems, and program management. Click here to view open positions in Boston, Cambridge, or at other Aurora locations. Many positions are eligible for hybrid home and office working arrangements.

Aurora Displays PAV Prototype at East Mississippi Community College

Aurora Flight Sciences’ passenger air vehicle (PAV) prototype is on display in The Communiversity at East Mississippi Community College (EMCC). This new display showcases future air mobility and continues a long history of cooperation between Aurora and EMCC

Earlier this month, a team from Aurora assembled the 30-ft long prototype aircraft inside EMCC’s Communiversity. Located less than 5 miles from Aurora’s advanced manufacturing site in Columbus, Mississippi, The Communiversity is a state-of-the art facility dedicated to training students for careers in modern manufacturing. EMCC also uses the space to host group tours for area K-12 students. The PAV display is intended to pique the interest of tomorrow’s engineers and technicians, who may choose a career in the aerospace industry.

Emily Thornberry is an engineering intern at Aurora and led the project to assemble the PAV display. “I think autonomous vehicles are exciting and represent the future,” Thornberry said. “The impact something like this can have on young minds is awesome.”

PAV is an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) prototype with twin booms on each side of the aircraft supporting eight lift rotors and a cruise propeller located in the rear. Designed to carry two passengers but no pilot, PAV provides unique insights into areas such as autonomy, electric propulsion, and flight operations for next-generation air vehicles.

“PAV is carbon fiber construction, which means it is extremely lightweight; every individual component of this aircraft can easily be picked up by hand,” said Cody Hardin, manufacturing engineer for Aurora Flight Sciences. “Composite structures are critical in advanced aircraft manufacturing and a big part of what we do at Aurora’s facility in Mississippi.”

Aurora also participates in an EMCC Workforce and Community Services course called Composite Manufacturing & Assembly, taught at The Communiversity. The 12-week course covers basic manufacturing skills, as well as processes related to carbon fiber composite manufacturing similar to what Aurora uses in its production environment. Upon successful course completion, students are given the opportunity to interview for an internship with the company. Many permanent team members have been welcomed through this program, with several continuing to advance their careers within Aurora.

“Aurora innovates, builds, and flies aircraft at the cutting-edge of aerospace technology,” says Per Beith, President and CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences. “It’s through technical ingenuity and know-how that our team in Mississippi advances the future of flight. Joining with EMCC gives us the valuable opportunity to support the development of modern manufacturing skills and foster STEM education in the local community.”

EMCC’s Camp AMP introduces junior high and high school students to STEM careers through hands-on experiences. Aurora supports Camp AMP by offering site tours and rocketry. Rocket camp sessions teach students how to build and fly a small model rocket, introducing them to the basics of flight and hobbyist-level construction skills through an immersive and engaging activity.

“We are very grateful for the support Aurora Flight Sciences has offered EMCC over the years, both in the classroom and through programs such as Camp AMP,” EMCC President Dr. Scott Alsobrooks said. “Our partnership with Aurora is invaluable to our institution and to the students we serve.”

Students of all ages are encouraged to visit The Communiversity to view PAV on display and learn about technical training programs that develop the modern manufacturing skills needed for careers in the aerospace industry. To learn more about Aurora’s work in urban air mobility, click here.

 

Aurora to Support Hybrid Electric Flight Demonstration Program

Aurora Flight Sciences, as part of a Boeing team, will provide GE Aviation with airplane modification, system integration and flight-testing services as part of NASA’s Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstration project.

The work includes nacelle manufacturing, flight deck interface design and software, aircraft-level performance analysis, and systems integration work to take place across Aurora’s sites in Virginia, Mississippi, and West Virginia.

Read more at GE Aviation >

 

Flight Testing Autonomy

Aurora works to advance autonomous flight by developing and testing a range of critical technologies. Two well-known challenges along the path to unpiloted flight are ‘detect and avoid’ and navigation in GPS-denied environments. Following our motto of ‘test early and test often,’ Aurora has been integrating these technologies into real aircraft and taking them into the field.

Detect and Avoid

Aurora has been developing detect and avoid (DAA) solutions for several years and recently conducted additional field testing. Detect and avoid systems aim to autonomously detect other air vehicles and inclement weather in the immediate airspace and then safely maneuver to avoid them. Small UAS (aka drones) were used for initial testing, primarily to analyze radar response for sensing uncooperative sUAS while overcoming the challenges of ground clutter, such as trees.

From there, testing moved to our Centaur aircraft, operating at faster speeds and higher altitudes. Centaur is Aurora’s optionally piloted aircraft system, well suited for testing of autonomous technologies. Through these types of test events, Aurora continues to develop a deeper understanding of system performance under different situations and then uses that information to further optimize our DAA algorithm. While the technology is vehicle agnostic, Aurora’s current focus is to mature its readiness for use in urban air mobility applications.

GPS-Denied Positioning

The ability to determine accurate positioning in a GPS-denied environment is a pervasive challenge for autonomous flight across both military and commercial applications. Aurora’s All Source Position, Navigation, and Timing (ASPNT) team conducted flight testing in Virginia with pilot Jason Jewell. The team flew a UH-1 helicopter with various sensors for determining position and timing in GPS-out environments. The team was testing an AI algorithm from Boeing Research & Technology, which ingests data from a collection of sensors and synthesizes them to provide accurate positioning information. Aurora’s initial tests were a success, and we look forward to additional work integrating these types of technologies into real aircraft, conducting flight tests, and implementing learnings.

Often, the most challenging aspect of developing truly autonomous vehicles is representing real problems experienced in the field and guaranteeing resiliency in those situations. Aurora teams working on DAA, ASPNT, and many other autonomy programs are finding solutions that continue to improve autonomous operations and advance the future of flight.

 

Aurora Awarded DARPA Contract for Shared-Experience Lifelong Learning (ShELL)

Program aims to develop lifelong learning agents that share knowledge while operating under constraints

Under a new Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract for the Shared-Experience Lifelong Learning (ShELL) Artificial Intelligence Exploration (AIE) effort, Aurora aims to develop AI algorithms to achieve life-long learning for agents that learn new tasks in changing environments and share their experiences with each other, while accounting for limitations in communications and hardware configuration.

In the Lifelong Learning (LL) framework, agents continually learn as they encounter new tasks or situations while in the field. The ShELL program extends this approach to many agents that share these continuous experiences among the whole population, thus improving and accelerating the training of each agent in the group. Additionally, the DARPA ShELL agents seek to address size-weight-and-power (SWaP) and computing-constrained platforms with limited communications.

The program will be executed in two phases, with a phase 1 feasibility study and phase 2 proof of concept. Under a subaward of this program, Aurora will collaborate with the Aerospace Controls Lab in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics on a novel AI agent learning methodology and optimize the agents to operate on low SWaP and communications constraints. This is key foundational technology to enable autonomous systems to operate resiliently and robustly in new or unknown environments.

ShELL is the fourth program that Aurora has won under DARPA’s Artificial Intelligence Exploration (AIE) portfolio. Other AIEs are:

  • The Intelligent Auto-Generation and Composition of Surrogate Models project, known as Ditto, where Aurora focuses on improving computer-generated design models by integrating artificial intelligence and machine learning to speed up simulations of future military equipment.
  • Gamebreaker, where Aurora develops methodologies to assess and affect game balance and game-breaking using a novel adversarial learning approach for efficiently training intelligent agents and learning the game balance models simultaneously.
  • Techniques for Machine Vision Disruption (TMVD) where Aurora proved a novel universal attack methodology to disrupt machine vision systems trained to classify militarily relevant objects of interest across multiple image domains.

AIE is part of DARPA’s multi-year investment of more than $2 billion in new and existing programs called the “AI Next” campaign. Aurora is proud to participate in these programs by developing new technologies at the cutting edge of AI and machine learning.

Aurora Supports Summer STEM Activities

Employees enjoyed welcoming students back for summer 2021 tours and rocket building.

Aurora supported three rocket camps and two tours for STEM students in summer 2021, primarily out of its manufacturing site in Columbus, Mississippi. The company held two rocket camps with East Mississippi Community College Camp AMP, as well as a rocket camp and tour with Mississippi State University and the Mississippi Summer Transportation Institute. Rocket camps provide students the opportunity to build and fly a small model rocket, introducing them to the basics of flight and hobbyist-level construction skills through an interactive and engaging activity.

Also this summer, Aurora hosted a tour of their headquarters in Manassas, Virginia for Future Kings, a Virginia-based non-profit in STEM educational programs. Tour participants not only saw Aurora’s facilities and experimental aircraft, but also a demonstration from the in-house drone team.

“Aurora has long history of supporting STEM activities. These programs give us the opportunity to introduce students to careers in engineering and composite manufacturing,” said Per Beith, Aurora President and CEO. “We hope to see these future engineers join the Aurora team someday.”

Aurora has four U.S. sites across Virginia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and West Virginia. The company is committed to working with local colleges, universities, and community organizations focused on STEM education and aeronautics. For more information, contact contributions@aurora.aero.

Aurora Selected to Advance Work on CRANE

Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing Company, was selected to continue to Phase 1 of DARPA’s Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) program. After having completed conceptual designs of novel configurations demonstrating active flow control, Aurora will proceed with system requirements development, initial design work, software development, and initial airworthiness activities.

Read the full story on DARPA.mil >